How to Co-Parent With Your Ex-Spouse

by Angela Watson

With estimates of anywhere from six to fourteen million children living in LGBT households in the U.S., there is a proportionately high number of gay couples, married and otherwise, raising these children. And with coupledom, there are bound to be break-ups, splits, divorces… whatever you want to call them. And they will affect our families.

And with these dissolutions of relationship, come a great many feelings, and not many are very happy. Certainly there are issues of anger, abandonment, mistrust and sadness (and multiple combinations thereof) and you can bet that at least one of these will be present during this difficult transition time.

Family Split

Parenting is possibly the most difficult and most rewarding job on earth. Co-parenting following a divorce is often harder to deal with, while co-parenting as a gay or lesbian person is even more complex. Gay and lesbian parents most likely exist in your community, or on the greater community of the Internet. Use resources such as our Links Page: click here to find, and benefit from the wisdom they can provide you.

Regardless of how angry or hurt you or your ex-spouse may feel about your divorce, the two of you will share the joys and heartaches of parenting your children forever. Communicate directly with each other. It is imperative that you avoid sending messages to each other through the children.

Focus on the needs of your children before beginning a discussion with your ex-spouse. Acknowledge your ex-spouse’s feelings and redirect the discussion to your children’s welfare. This can take a great deal of “centeredness” on your part, because, of course, your feelings about the state of your relationship with your ex are still present as well.

Your children’s needs override any emotional conflicts that exist between you and your ex-spouse. When you are faced with a conflict about a decision for your children, ask yourself, “How much of my reaction is about what I want?” and “How much of my reaction is about what is best for the children?”

Develop a set of mutually agreed-on ground rules that govern how the two of you discuss the children’s needs. For example, first focus on present issues and avoid criticism about past mistakes, then use respectful language, and finally agree to breaks during difficult discussions. It’s perfectly acceptable to agree to come back to something later when emotions are not as turbulent.

Consider using something such as psychotherapy for yourself or couples counseling to help you set aside negative feelings you have about your ex-spouse and your divorce. Meet with a therapist or a conflict-mediation professional if you and your ex-spouse seem to be “stuck.”

Schedule a weekly time to provide each other with updates about the children. Talk about homework assignments, their new friends, what they are doing in school and how the children are adjusting to any changes in their routines. Weekly communication provides your children with consistent parenting from both of you. In the beginning, you may have to do this more frequently to ensure clear communication. Remember that children crave consistency and will suffer if the two of you cannot meet agreements.

Plan for your children in advance, perhaps in three-month segments at a time. Children benefit because they have a clear and specific understanding of what will happen when and which parent they will be spending time with for each holiday. Better yet would be if you and your ex could put aside animosities and celebrate important family holidays together, most notably the children’s birthdays. Be clear with the children, however, that this shared celebration does not signal reconciliation.

Schedule a separate time to discuss and process remaining unresolved issues (such as community property and finances) with your ex-spouse. Professional help may be required if feelings are running high between the two of you.

Ultimately, it is sad to see a relationship not succeed, however, by employing some basic courtesy and kindness towards each other, you can be there for your children and do what is best for them.

Information published on The Rainbow Babies website is not a substitute for proper medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or care. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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